The following is a question-and-answer series with incumbent Sheriff John Merchant.
Q. Share about yourself and your family.
A. I am the only sheriff’s candidate that is a lifelong resident of Brown County. In 1977 I graduated from Hiawatha High School and attended Highland Community college where I met my wife, Patti. We have been married for 42 years and have three children, Donnie and Rachel, who live on the family farm with Eva and Carter, John Jr., who lives near Hiawatha and served six years in the Air Force with deployments to Iraq, Kyrgyzstan and San Salvador, and Holly and John who live in Hiawatha with Kacer and Harper.
Q. How long have you worked in law enforcement and in what capacities?
A. I’ve proudly served the citizens of Brown County as your sheriff for over 12 years, with more than 23 years law of enforcement experience.
Q. What do you feel are the most important responsibilities of a county sheriff?
A. A sheriff must to be available and accountable to the citizens when they have concerns, and provide fair and impartial law enforcement to all. Sometimes, just speaking with the sheriff can put their mind at ease. Being transparent, dealing with people fair and honestly, operating within a budget, proactively preventing criminal activity, keeping the peace, provide assistance to other agencies, maintain a jail, training staff as well as many other responsibilities.
Q. What experience and/or training qualifies you for this position?
A. I have the most up-to-date training when it pertains to the safety of Brown County. I spend hundreds of hours researching current trends in criminal activity and networking with different law enforcement agencies across the United States to enhance the safety of our county. I am a certified human trafficking investigator, child seat tech, first aid CPR instructor, defensive driving instructor and recommended security measures at USD 430 schools, homes, churches and businesses in Brown County. We are required to report 40 hours of training annually, but I often have many more hours than required in order to keep up to date on issues. Too much to list properly.
Q. Explain some of your most notable achievements in law enforcement.
A. My most notable achievement was having the honor of being nominated and then elected to serve as your sheriff. Certifying over 1,000 students and staff in first aid CPR, three-year term on the National Child Passenger Safety Board, initiating a scholarship program for county teens in honor of Deputy Todd Widman using Offender Registry Funds, notification alerts on scams to protect the assets of our citizens, 2015 Kansas Sheriff of the Year, 2015 Kansas Elected Official of the Year, 2009 and 2016 recipient of the Kansas People Saving People Award, establishing a mounted search and rescue unit to search for missing children and adults, to name a few, (are other achievements).
Q. As far as law enforcement is concerned, what do you think are the three most important issues that need to be addressed in Brown County in the near future? Explain why and what you intend to do to address those issues.
A. 1. To continue to earn the public’s trust. With the ever-changing issues in our world today, our citizens need reassured that we are working for them. I have an open-door policy and meet with county residents on a regular basis and I will continue to do so.
2. Adapt to change. With the COVID pandemic, other law enforcement agencies in the county closed their doors to the public. We chose to remain open to the public, make some operating changes, educate-train and equipped my staff with proper PPE and delivered food, medication and supplies to those who could not risk exposure to the virus. I had several staff members who insisted on coming to work even though they were at a higher risk of contracting COVID. They spoke with their doctors to get their OK and continued with their jobs. I am very thankful for their dedication to the citizens of the county. I cannot do my job if it wasn’t for loyal dedicated staff. Law enforcement cannot just close down when adversity comes, we must find a way to effectively be available to the public.
3. Decrease criminal activity. We are sworn to support the Constitution of the United States and the State of Kansas. That means we have to be vigilant in preventing criminal activity. Criminals need three things to commit a crime — means, motive and opportunity. By taking away one part of the equation, criminal acts are less likely to occur. We will continue to provide effective patrol in all areas of the county.
Q. What short and long term plans do you have for the improvement of Brown County where the law and public safety are concerned?
A. Four years ago I was asked this same question. We were able to lower the crime rate in our county as promised. We will continue to aggressively investigate any criminal activity in Brown County and hold those responsible accountable.
Families and businesses do not want to relocate to an area that is high in crime. I make it a point to provide active patrol in all areas of the county on a regular basis. Officer presence is a big crime deterrent. We will continue to maintain the high standards of law enforcement the county residents have come to expect. Grants play a big part in being able to afford the latest equipment, we have been very fortunate to obtain many thousands of dollars in grants.
Q. Why do you want to be sheriff and why should constituents vote for you in the upcoming election?
A. I have worked very hard over the past 12 years to improve the quality of life for Brown County citizens. I am very no-nonsense when it comes to what is expected of those who choose to be law enforcement officers. I am very conservative when it comes to spending your hard-earned tax dollars. I encourage responsible gun ownership, respect and honor our veterans and those serving in the military and have always been a working sheriff available to you, the citizens. I would appreciate your vote so I can continue to make Brown County a safer place to live and raise a family.